HARWICH — The planning board is recommending two marijuana-related zoning amendments be placed before town meeting this spring, one extending the moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana and the other permanently banning the retail sale of pot.
The board's recommendations came in a public hearing last week in which Police Chief David Guillemette emphasized the town's public safety community is very concerned about negative impacts from the sale of recreational marijuana.
Selectmen on Monday agreed not to call a special town meeting to address the recreational marijuana zoning amendments after Town Administrator Christopher Clark said Town Counsel Brian Riley informed him he did not think a special session was necessary, that requirements for getting a license would protect the town until action is taken in the annual town meeting. Clark said Riley indicated there is always a risk of a license slipping through the gap between the end of the current moratorium and the implementation of the new ban, but the town has taken steps that should protect them through the annual meeting.
The state Cannabis Control Commission has set April 1 as the date application for retail marijuana sales permits will be accept in communities across the commonwealth. Harwich's annual town meeting will begin on May 7.
The planning board held public hearings a week ago Tuesday on two of the three zoning amendments relating to the sale of recreational marijuana. Interim Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said the board would be conducting a public hearing on Feb. 13 on a third zoning amendment related to recreational marijuana sales which would establish time, place and manner for the sale, should the outright ban amendment not gain voter support.
Greenhalgh said if the article banning the sale of recreational marijuana in town passes, there will not be a need to act on the other two related articles. But board member Mary Maslowski said the moratorium extension should be voted because there is still the potential for a gap in timing while the Attorney General's Office reviews the article establishing the ban. Greenhalgh concurred, pointing out the AG's Office has 90 days from the time the article is submitted to issue its approval.
Greenhalgh made it clear the provisions relate only to the sale of recreational marijuana in the town, pointing out state law allows residents to grow and use marijuana in their homes. Planning Board acting chairman James Atkinson said the town is being very responsible in taking the three-prong approach to protect the town's residents.
Planning Board member Joseph McParland said there are reasons for the ban. He said he ran into Det. Sgt. Robert Brackett who told him there is a business in town which sells smoking paraphernalia, and there are people smoking marijuana there, while at a business next door customers say they can't breathe.
“That story reaffirms what we do this for,” McParland said.
Chief Guillemette said he is supportive of the zoning amendments, and the public safety community as a whole is supportive. Guillemette said his decision is not based on being the police chief, but rather on convincing evidence based on impacts. He cited the National Marijuana Initiative findings as an example.
In Colorado, marijuana use has increased along with emergency room visits and automobile accidents, he said. He emphasized that availability in Harwich will have a negative impact on the youth of the community. If Harwich is the only community selling pot in the area, the chief said, it will draw users from around the area, generating more public consumption and more automobile crashes, impacting public safety.
Guillemette cited several incidents in town already, including a violent shooting at the park and ride lot along Route 124 related to a marijuana deal. He also referred to an overdose relating to a cannabis based beverage; a fire started in a garage at a marijuana growing operation; and a situation where someone purchased medical marijuana and was diverting it and other drugs to friends.
“These are just a few examples,” Guillemette said. “Are these incidents going to increase or decrease? The public safety community is deeply concerned about it.”
With no other comments, the board closed the hearing, approved motions making a few technical corrections in language and voted to approved the proposed articles and recommending that they be approved by town meeting.